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Why Nepal’s Gorkhas are joining the Wagner Group

Updated: Mar 26

Nepal’s brave and fierce warriors, the Gorkhas, are joining Wagner Group, Russia’s private military company.

Nepal’s brave and fierce warriors, the Gorkhas, are joining Wagner Group, Russia’s private military company.

Higher pay and the end of recruitment to the Indian Army because of the Agnipath scheme is luring the youth to the mercenary outfit despite grave threats.

The mutiny is over and the rebellious leader is now in exile. After carrying out a march towards the Kremlin, Wagner Group chief Yevgeny Prigozhin is now in exile in Belarus, as confirmed by Belarussian president Alexander Lukashenko.

Reports state that Prigozhin, the one-time close aide of Vladimir Putin, is staying in one of the few hotels in the capital Minsk that does not have any windows in order to protect him from assassination attempts.

And what about his troops? Russia’s Federal Security Service announced that it had closed a criminal case against the Wagner fighters who were seeking to topple the country’s military leadership.

Additionally, Russian president Vladimir Putin announced that Wagner fighters could sign a contract with the Russian military, return to their families or move to Belarus. The heavy military hardware held by the Wagner Group would also be transferred to Russian troops.

Does this mean it’s the end of the Wagner Group? If reports are to be believed, then the Wagner Group is instead thriving and receiving recruits from unexpected corners. One of the areas from where it is getting its new work force is Nepal, and the famed Gorkha warriors are now becoming its youngest and fiercest recruits.

We take a closer look at what is prompting these famed warriors to head to Moscow? What is the lure behind the Russian private military? How is India connected to it?

Gorkhas in Wagner

In recent days, reports have emerged that a number of Nepali Gorkhas have made their way to Russia to join PMC Wagner. There is no data on the number of Nepali youths joining Russian forces. But it is an open secret that Nepali youths are enlisting as private citizens.

Nepal’s Ghorkas are joining Wagner group

For the unaware, the Gorkhas are Nepal’s famous warriors and have earned the reputation of being fearless and strong. Their motto ‘Better to die than be a coward’ reflects their bravery.

It is because of their valor that Nepal has a long tradition of sending its youths to serve as soldiers for the British and Indians through formal channels. Nepali youths have been drafted into the British Army since 1815 as “British Gorkhas.” This tradition carried over after India achieved independence through the “Indian Gorkhas.” Such is their standing that in recent times even China has been trying to induct them into the Peoples Liberation Army.

Now, even though there is no formal agreement between Russia and Nepal, several of the Nepali youths are finding their way into the private military company. One Nepal Army retiree told The Diplomat that he found his way to Moscow after working as a security guard in Dubai. He told the magazine that he traveled to Moscow as a tourist and joined the army at a Russian recruitment center.

And he is definitely not alone. Several videos have surfaced in social media showing Nepali youths taking military training in Russia. But what has prompted Nepal’s Gorkhas to make their way to Russia and join the private military? There are several reasons to this shift.

First and foremost, on 16 May, Russian authorities made it easy to access citizenship. They stated that the process of applying for citizenship would be made easier for those who provide a year of military service. Primarily, the new law said that those individuals and their family members who serve in the army will be able to apply for Russian citizenship without the need to obtain a residence permit.

Additionally, Moscow does not look for Russian language proficiency for recruitment of foreigners. The lure of working in Russia compared to Nepal where unemployment rates are as high as 11.2 per cent is a driving factor for many of the Gorkha recruits.

One of the youngsters, who has been recruited by Wagner, was quoted as telling Nepal Press that he was studying at a Russian state university and his visa was about to expire. “I had two options – return to Nepal and be unemployed or get a job in the Russian Army.”

He added that even during the training period he was earning a salary of around Nepali Rs 50,000 along with insurance. “If I don’t die in one year, I will live here,” the Nepali youth told the Kathmandu-based news service.

Another reason for Nepali Gorkhas wanting to join the Russia’s Wagner Group is India. Earlier, a large number of Gorkhas were recruited into the Indian Army. However, India’s new Agnipath scheme, wherein troops will be enlisted for shorter contract tenures and no pension, has become a sticking point between the two nations. Unhappy with the scheme, Nepal has stopped the 200-year-old recruitment process until more clarity was provided.

The third reason why Nepali Gorkhas are choosing Russia is easy access to Europe and the promise of a better life. As one recruit told Nepal Press, “I was thinking of joining the French Army. There was a long process, and it was difficult to enter Europe. Russia is easy.”

Also, the Wagner Group, until the rebellion, had acquired a reputation. Its hard-fought victory in the Ukrainian town of Bakhmut had created an aura of bravery around it. Moreover, many believe that Wagner pays its recruits very well and rewards them with perks – reports state that a Wagner soldier is paid up to $2,500 (Rs 2.04 lakh) whereas the average monthly income in Russia is well below $1,000 (Rs 81,000).

As The Diplomat noted: The Nepali youths are eager to join irrespective of their own ideological lines.

A cause to worry

India has taken note of this development with former Army Chief General Ved Prakash Malik saying that India should stay alert and not employ those individuals who have been recruited as mercenaries.

Speaking to ETV Bharat, the former chief said that he understood how a dearth of jobs could lead some to be enticed. “Frankly speaking at this moment, I have no idea about how many Nepalis have joined Wagner in Russia. But whenever there is dearth of jobs, some of them may get enticed to such offers.”

The Congress also reacted to the news with communications chief Jairam Ramesh tweeting: “Gorkhas are universally acknowledged to be among the finest soldiers in the world.

Yet the ill-conceived Agnipath scheme has interrupted a 200-year-old recruitment process and no Gurkha soldiers will be entering the Indian Army in 2023. This disruption is leading to Gurkhas being recruited by private military companies like the Wagner Group that recently revolted against the Russian government.”

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